Top 10 Films of 2021

2021 was…a lot. Hopefully, 2022 is a turn for the better, but we shall see. One thing is for certain, this year’s slate of films has given us so much. So much to love. So much discourse. So much awards buzz…(maybe more than ever before). With the theatre-going experience being in limbo this past year, many of us have become accustomed to watching films in the comfort of our own homes. For some, it was simply not the same, but for others, it has been quite refreshing. With the quality of storytelling growing each year, there is no shortage of exemplary films playing on whatever screen you choose to watch them on.

For our team of writers here at Screen Queens, we have had varying experiences. Some of us have had the chance to experience entire film festivals in our pajamas. Some of us have gotten in a few theatrical experiences. Our top 10 for the most part is reflective of what has been available to us, with many great films slipping through the cracks. Regardless of the number of films we have to see in 2021, we are pretty confident in our top 10. Before we jump into what made the cut after we all vote on a team poll, here are our honourable mentions. Please note, the voting was very close, many of these could have easily slipped into the top 10 with one or two votes. So let us raise a glass to these fine films: Titane, Bergman Island, Passing, The French Dispatch, The Velvet Underground, The Souvenir Part II, Memoria, Black Widow, Zola, Luca, The Suicide Squad, Raya and the Last Dragon, CODA, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Special shout-out to the films that were one vote short of joining the top 10: The Last Duel, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy and Annette.

Now let’s get to the cream of the crop.

Petite Maman dir. Céline Sciamma

By far in a way, Petite Maman took the lead in our poll for the best film in 2021. Is it a surprise that we at Screen Queens stan all things Celine Sciamma? No. In Rose Dymock’s review, she puts it best, “There is no doubt that Petite Maman is one of Sciamma’s best, if not her masterpiece, as it probes grief, childhood and the experience of childhood like no one else can.” Dymock also notes how Sciamma and Claire Mathon lure us in with the visual beauty of the film, writing “Sciamma and cinematographer, the always excellent Claire Mathon, fill the screen with colour. This is a film that plays with reality, quiet magic that seeps in through the luminous oranges and reds of the autumn leaves, the glimpses of a glowing sunset, the bright patterns of a ‘70s colour scheme.” Needless to say, watch this fabulous film. You won’t regret it.

The Power of the Dog dir. Jane Campion

Jane Campion’s artistry is undisputed. Her work is one that often revolves around human behaviour, how people engage with gender norms, the masks we wear to shield our true natures – all of these themes have been present in Campion’s films prior to The Power of The Dog. In this film, she tackles the complicated and nuanced world of a machismo-driven cowboy and the woman who unfortunately becomes his sister-in-law, there is much more to this family dynamic that Campion beautifully captures from her stellar cast, especially Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst. To sum up the nature of Campion’s latest feature, “The Power of the Dog is a veritable arthouse classic and has much to satisfy true cinephiles by its almost reptilian movement through human endeavours. You never know what might strike you or whether it will happen with a force or a gentle touch here.” -Prithvijeet Sinha

Shiva Baby dir. Emma Seligman

Shiva Baby is a challenging film, especially if you struggle with growing up. It is an effective coming-of-age drama that as Saffron Maeve writes in her review, “neatly juggles queer identity, power dynamics, sex work, religion, and the ethos of family all within a 77-minute runtime.” McKinzie Smith writes, “What makes Shiva Baby stand out is its quiet intensity. This isn’t a film of theatrical breakdowns or heart-wrenching monologues. Instead, its power is found in its ability to show us Danielle’s interior pain through the build-up of small moments that ebb and flow as the fictional gathering continues.” We can all agree that Shiva Baby made us…uncomfortable, but it is the sort of discomfort that morphs into comfort. Smith writes, “It is a reminder that, though you may feel like your life is over, you’re still just a baby.” We are all Danielles.

The Green Knight dir. David Lowrey

One thing that we can all agree upon is that David Lowrey’s The Green Knight is a sight to behold and an experience to be had. In her review, Britany Murphy writes, “The Green Knight is something that is experienced through the film’s visual threads and beauty. There is not one scene throughout the movie’s entirety that is not pleasing to the eye. Everything is captured beautifully and even if this film were to have zero dialogue, the audience could still be held captive. Not only does the beauty capture the viewer’s attention, but the storytelling does too.” Adding to the extravagant visuals is the very handsome Dev Patel, Murphy writes, “Patel is pitch-perfect through all of Gawain’s ups and downs and makes The Green Knight all the more compelling.” It is safe to say that we very much enjoyed the film, and thus, it earns its place in our top 10!

Dune dir. Denis Villeneuve

Dune was 2021’s biggest cinematic spectacle. From an all-star cast led by rising superstars Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya (who gifted us with the best red carpet and promotional looks of the year) to the critically-acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve to the legendary composer Hans Zimmer, Dune was formulated to be one of the must-see films of the year. Even though we were given half of a coming-of-age story with Dune Part 2 set to blast our year-drums in 2023, there is something to be said about this adaptation of the acclaimed novels by Frank Herbert that cannot be properly expressed in under 250 words. The film is enthralling, luring you in without a moment to grasp what is happening to you. It is a cinematic experience that cannot be measured by the normal metrics assigned to good films. In a word, Dune is an experience. One that lingers in deep recesses of your mind, wondering if you are satisfied or hungry for more.

The Lost Daughter dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal

Callie Hardy: Any film starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley in its main roles has a considerable advantage to start with. If you add to this a strong directorial eye from Maggie Gyllenhaal, compelling characters, and a subtle script, you get a film that feels real in the most gut-wrenching ways. The Lost Daughter is a nightmare set in the most dreamy settings you could picture, depicting the glamourless sides of motherhood and womanhood that cinema has often shied away from showing. Leda’s story is oppressing, uncomfortable, sometimes funny and often familiar in ways that mothers are rarely allowed to talk about. Watching it is sometimes about as pleasurable as being drowned in a tub of ice, but Gyllenhaal avoids melodrama and exploitation, already showing a unique identity and a knack for impactful narratives in this striking debut.

Drive My Car dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Daisy Leigh-Phippard: Based on a short story of the same name by the celebrated Haruki Murakami, Drive My Car is a three-hour masterpiece from writer/director Ryūsuke Hamaguchi that wrestles with loss, belonging and hope. The film follows theatre actor and director Kafuku Yūsuke (Nishijima Hidetoshi) as he embarks on a production of Uncle Vanya told in multiple languages (Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and sign language) with a cast whose only universal form of communication is performance. His trials and tribulations with the show and its colourful and complex company become guided by his personal driver (Miura Tōko) who helps Kafuku finally grapple with the death of his enigmatic wife years before. It is a quiet, patient film, and yet intimately intense and relentless in its ideals. Don’t be surprised if you see it coming to prominence as we approach awards season (it’s already won Best Screenplay at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival – Hamaguchi and co-screenwriter Oe Takamasa are the first Japanese recipients of the honour) as the Japanese entry for pretty much all the major awards including Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards.

West Side Story (2021) dir. Steve Spielberg

Amazingly acted, colourfully choreographed and daringly directed, West Side Story has the makings of a new classic. Considering the original film (based on the popular musical of the same name) was a huge hit 60 years ago, it is safe to say that the cast featuring Ariana DeBose, Rachel Zegler, David Alvarez, Josh Andres Rivera and Mike Faist, directed by Steven Spielberg had some pretty big shoes to fill, and also some major problematic elements to correct. 

While the film doesn’t necessarily correct all the problems people took issue with in regards to the previous film, it does address the most glaring, which was the lack of Latinx actors in the cast (aside from EGOT royalty Rita Moreno as Anita), actors in brown face and changing the lyrics for certain songs to remove any of the racial stereotypes. Despite not being able to please everyone, one thing about West Side Story that everyone can agree upon is its tremendous cast, who very much are a reason as to why this film has made the top 10 list. One cannot mention the cast without mentioning the impactful DeBose. Stepping into Anita’s shoes must have been daunting. As mentioned above, EGOT Royalty Rita Moreno previously inhabited the role. If DeBose was ever nervous, that never showed on-screen and for me, the actress will most definitely be adding a well-deserved Academy Award nomination (and very possible win) to any future casting billings a few months from now.

The Matrix Resurrections dir. Lana Wachowski

In their review, Bishop V. Navarro says of The Matric Resurrections, “Resurrections is a deeply personal process that we as an audience have the honour of witnessing.” This is definitely a sentiment shared amongst the Screen Queens team.

Reyna Cervantes adds: When it was announced that Warner Bros. was looking to do a new installment in the Matrix franchise, I, like many others, was skeptical. After all, The Matrix trilogy are probably some of the most important films of the last 50 year. They broke boundaries, created techniques used in action films to this very day, and are some of the highest-profile films directed by transwomen. When it was announced that Lana Wachowski was set to return to write and direct the new film and that it was going to be a follow-up to the trilogy, I had a feeling we were in for something very special. The Matrix Resurrections exists at the crossroads of sequel/reboot/remake/epilogue. It meta almost to fault and deconstructs the modern blockbuster sequel while being one in the process. It’s also got something that a lot of blockbusters don’t have in today’s day and age: heart. The Matrix Resurrections ends up being a very sincere love story while wearing its heart and queer allegories on its sleeve. It feels as though the movie wasn’t made as a product to generate money but as an artist returning to the work of their past and updating it for our modern times.

tick, tick… Boom! dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda

In her review, Carmen Paddock called the film a “genuinely memorable and moving tribute” to Jonathan Larson. She also noted that Andrew Garfield is “exuberant, with the voice and physicality to bring Larson’s songs, overflowing creative drive, and frustrations about art under capitalism to life.” Overall, Paddock’s review had its fair share of criticism of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s debut film, but what she and her fellow Screen Queens writers appreciated was the energy and sincerity Miranda injects into bringing Larson’s life story to screen.

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